A meme while we wait: When you a righteous man but God lets Satan persecute you:


Original image by William Blake, taken from Wikimedia Commons.


Transcript: Jürgen Moltmann with Miroslav Volf

Here are two transcripts for the Moltmann and Volf videos I have embedded below. The first video is a shorter excerpt from the second.

Here is a suggested citation: Dion Forster, Yale Divinity School, “Who is God for you? (Jürgen Moltmann with Miroslav Volf),” YouTube video, 4:15, posted 14 August 2014,, transcript accessible at ***.

Volf: Who is God for you?

Moltmann: Jesus Christ is the human face of God. Without Jesus Christ I would not believe in God. Looking at the catastrophes of nature and the human catastrophes of history, I would not come on the idea that a God exists. And this God is love. This was unthinkable for me. [Unclear] Jesus Christ and his message and his suffering on the cross and his resurrection from the cross, my feeling that God is present in the midst of suffering is a firm trust of my heart.

Volf: So you’re not speaking right now simply as a theologian–you’re speaking from personal experience of discovering or being discovered by God?

Moltmann: Yeah.

Volf: Can you say more about this experience, which was experience of anxiety, aftermath of terror, a place where joy normally would not find its entrance?

Moltmann: When I was sixteen, I was drafted to the German army in 1943, and experienced the destruction of my hometown, Hamburg. In the midst of Hamburg there was an anti-aircraft battery and we schoolboys had to serve in this battery. The operation called by the British was the “Operation Gomorrah,” the destruction of the sinful city of Hamburg. And I was in the midst of it. At that time I cried out to God for the first time. And later, I was in a prison camp in Scotland. There I read with consciousness for the firs time the Gospel of Mark. And when I came to the cry with which Jesus died, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?,” I felt that there is a divine brother who feels the same as my feeling was at that time. This saved me from self-destruction and desperation. So I came up with hope on a place where there was no expectation to come home soon. The imprisonment lasted for three years.

* * *

This is the second video:

Here is a suggested citation: Yale Divinity School, “Theology of Joy: Jürgen Moltmann & Miroslav Volf,” YouTube video, 25:43, posted 14 August 2014,, transcription available at ***.

Volf: I’m sitting here with Jürgen Moltmann, one of the foremost theologians in the world today. We’re in Tübingen where he used to teach for many years. We have just finished a small consultation on joy, and that’s the occasion why we are talking together. Jürgen, if I may, you have written a book about joy some forty years ago. What have you learned in the meantime about joy?

Moltmann: Forty years ago it was the time of the protest movement against the Vietnam War and the student unrest everywhere in the world. At that time I was thinking about “How can I sing the Lord’s song in an alien land?” [Psalm 137:4] Forty years after I want to understand how to sing the Lord’s song in the broad place of his presence [cf. Psalm 31:8; Job 36:16]. So from the dialectic to the affirmation. Hope is for me anticipated joy, as anxiety is anticipated terror. Today, at least in Germany, we live more by anxiety and terror than by hope and joy.

Volf: So in anxiety and terror, how does one find [the] way to joy?

Moltmann: Whenever I feel the presence of God, my heart is lifted up and I see more positive into the future of the coming of God. Thus hope is awakened in me.

Volf: Who is God for you?

Moltmann: Jesus Christ is the human face of God. Without Jesus Christ I would not believe in God. Looking at the catastrophes of nature and the human catastrophes of history, I would not come on the idea that a God exists. And this God is love. This was unthinkable for me. [Unclear] Jesus Christ and his message and his suffering on the cross and his resurrection from the cross, my feeling that God is present in the midst of suffering is a firm trust of my heart.

Volf: So you’re not speaking right now simply as a theologian–you’re speaking from personal experience of discovering or being discovered by God?

Moltmann: Yeah.

Volf: Can you say more about this experience, which was experience of anxiety, aftermath of terror, a place where joy normally would not find its entrance?

Moltmann: When I was sixteen, I was drafted to the German army in 1943, and experienced the destruction of my hometown, Hamburg. In the midst of Hamburg there was an anti-aircraft battery and we schoolboys had to serve in this battery. The operation called by the British was the “Operation Gomorrah,” the destruction of the sinful city of Hamburg. And I was in the midst of it. At that time I cried out to God for the first time. And later, I was in a prison camp in Scotland. There I read with consciousness for the firs time the Gospel of Mark. And when I came to the cry with which Jesus died, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?,” I felt that there is a divine brother who feels the same as my feeling was at that time. This saved me from self-destruction and desperation. So I came up with hope on a place where there was no expectation to come home soon. The imprisonment lasted for three years.

Volf: You have later written a book that I’ve heard you say you consider to be the most important book that you’ve written, namely The Crucified God. And at the heart of that book, in a sense, is this cry of dereliction. How is that book related to the book on hope? [Moltmann laughs] How is a cry of dereliction, of pain, related to the joy of jubilation, of resurrection?

Moltmann: Well, I started with hope and the resurrection of Christ, with the ground of hopeful expectation of the coming of Christ and the coming of the kingdom of God. When I experienced in the US that they took this as a reinforcement of the normally American pursuit of happiness and the American optimism, I said I when I would return I would only speak of the other side of Christ on the cross. And so I came from the side of the resurrection to the side of the crucifixion. There are two sides of the presence of Christ.

Volf: You wrote in the paper that was read by the participants of the consultation on joy that Christian faith is a unique religion of joy. And you tied that to the key moments in the Christ story–death, resurrection, and then also coming of the Spirit. Can you say more about this uniqueness? In what ways and why is Christian faith uniquely [a] religion of joy?

Moltmann: At the centre of Judaism is the Torah. At the centre of Christianity is the euangelion, the Gospel. And this is good news. And this is the news that God has raised the crucified Christ to be the Lord of the world. Therefore Christianity is unique in this sense–that it is a religion of joy. Christmas carols and Easter laughter and the awakening of Pentecost feelings–this is unique in Christianity. I don’t mean that Christianity is absolute. But it is unique in this way. Compare this with Judaism and the [sic] Islam and Buddhism. They are all unique in their centre. But the centre of the resurrection is unique in Christianity.

Volf: You’ve earlier contrasted [the] pursuit of happiness, a certain form of optimism–also in your paper, you spoke about Spaßgesellschaft, fun society–and contrasted all these–pursuit of happiness, optimism, fun–to joy. How are they different?

Moltmann: Fun is a superficial feeling, which must be repeated again and again to last, while joy is a deeper feeling of the whole existence. You can have fun at the side, but you can experience joy only with your whole heart, your whole soul, and all your energies. Therefore Schiller thought that joy is divine. It comes from outside into our life in a surprise, in a turning from sadness to goodness, from sickness to health, and from loneliness to communion. And this turning point awakens joy.

Volf: So joy isn’t, then, kind of simply a feeling. Joy is a response to certain states of affairs that have been changed, created, to which there is a particular of responding. Would that be a way to express it?

Moltmann: You cannot make yourself joyful. This would be self-satisfaction. But you are always outside of yourself, watching yourself: Am I being happy or not? And this would never lead to joy. Something unexpected must happen. So, falling in love, for example, to take it from natural life, or sudden success, or, in political life, the unification of Germany or the coming of Nelson Mandela out of thirty years of prison in Robben Island. He came and everybody expected civil war. Nothing happened. Nelson Mandela came. This is a reason for surprise and joy.

Volf: So, in a sense, it’s not a natural course of events that we expect to happen. It comes to us, almost, as a gift, as a gratuity from outside. I think of great events that you were describing. And maybe I can give an example as a contrasting one also, something much more quiet that may be a source of joy. Let’s say a child is born. That may be like the event of the Exodus[?], that may be like the event of something completely new comes, and there is joy and there is rejoicing in it. But the child is growing and there’s kind of a quieter joy that attends to relationship to something that’s there but that it’s also always experienced as gift. Or one falls in love but then love matures and every morning it’s a kind of new. So there may be exhilarating joy and there may be kind of quieter joy. Does that make sense?

Moltmann: Yes, of course. I think the intention of love is the happiness of the beloved. So love’s intention is not to own the beloved but to have the beloved happy. And therefore love sometimes supports the beloved and sometimes taking oneself back to let the beloved in freedom. So both actions are actions of love. We are not loved because we are so beautiful and good but we are beautiful and good because we are loved [Luther]. This is true for interpersonal relationships and also true with the relationship of God who is love, as we say with the New Testament [1 John 4:16]. He wants to see his beloved children on earth happy and joyful.

Volf: And, in a sense, the contrast that you made–we are not loved because we’re beautiful; we are beautiful because we’re loved–it kind of breaks a cause and effect relationship. If I’m beautiful and [then?] loved, my beauty kind of elicits the love and it’s expected. But if I’m not, the loved comes to me always as a gift, as a surprise, and lifts me up precisely in those terms, and then is a cause of joy. So do see a connection between joy and gratitude?

Moltmann: Yes, of course. Every child knows this at Christmas [both laugh].

Volf: [Unclear] of perceiving oneself as having been blessed and therefore grateful–in other words, it’s not enough for a child to get the present, right? They have to receive that present as a gift and be grateful for it for joy to occur. They may be dissatisfied because they didn’t get quite the present they wanted and then joy’s gone, right? But when it works well, the present, gratitude and joy form kind of an axis.

Moltmann: But every child and every person knows that anticipated joy is the best joy–

Volf: But if you always anticipate only [laughs]–

Moltmann: There’s a certain melancholy of the second day of Christmas. If you get what you anticipated–

Volf: But if you never get what you anticipate, if you only anticipate, right? So it’s a kind of dialectic between the two. At one point you have also connected kind of the character of the God, as Christian faith embraces or believes in, a God who is love but God who is [a] kind of passionate God, God who is engaged with the world, with the issue of joy, so that the passion of God becomes the foundation of joy.

Moltmann: Yes, and I feel at one with Abraham Heschel from Judaism who spoke of the pathos of God. A passionate God is on every page of the Hebrew Bible–or the Old Testament, as we say–but we in the Christian tradition have still to wrestle with the absolute God of the Greek metaphysics who is apathetic by nature. God doesn’t feel joy. God doesn’t feel pain. He is above pain and joy. So the apathetic God makes man apathetic too. This is the sovereignty of the soul which is above feelings of joy and pain. And the pathos of God, or the passion of God, makes the believers compassionate. They participate in the suffering of others and participate in the joy of others. Sometimes it seems to me that compassion with the suffering of others is easier than compassion with the joy of others. We feel so good if we can have mercy with somebody else. And we feel some envy if somebody else feel[s] joy and success, at least in the academic world. This is the case.

Volf: The rest of the world is spared from that temptation, I’m sure [Moltmann laughs]. The joy of God, it’s almost like a revolutionary idea, right? The God, the Creator of all that is, would rejoice, at least against the backdrop of Greek philosophical thinking, and much of the Christian tradition too.

Moltmann: How can we speak of the love of God if we don’t dare to speak of the joy of God? Because God loves somebody, joy, and participates in the joy of his creation [sentence unclear]. In the New Testament we have Luke 15 where there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents over ninety-nine just people, which is not true according to the parables given in this chapter because the lost coin could not repent and the lost sheep could only make noise but not repent. Only the prodigal son repented. But the father was not interested in his confession of sin. He loved him as soon as he saw him. So it’s God’s finder-joy in these parables.

Volf: You have–I think yesterday, if I listened to you rightly–you have connected joy of God with love of God–or love of God with joy–but you’ve also connected love of God with wrath of God so that joy and wrath and love would go together.

Moltmann: I interpret the wrath of God as God’s wounded love. If you feel the wrath of another person, you feel also the interest of another person in you. Only if that person turns away and turns their back to you, then you feel indifference. And this is the most terrible thing we can experience of God, that he has turned his countenance away from us. The Jews call this hester panim, the dark face of God, the contrary of the opposition to the shining countenance of God from where the blessing comes, according to the Aaronite blessing, Let shine your blessing over us and give us peace [Numbers 6:24-27].

Volf: But joy is more lasting and stronger than wrath.

Moltmann: Yeah, we have certain testimonies of this, even in the Old Testament. “My wrath is only for a moment and my grace is everlasting” [e.g., Psalm 30:5].

Volf: So joy, in the end, wins.

Moltmann: Yeah, I’m convinced of that.

Volf: Thank you Jürgen.

Transcript: “An interview with Jürgen Moltmann by Selina Palm VLOG 63”

This is a transcription of “An interview with Jürgen Moltmann by Selina Palm VLOG 63,” embedded here:

Here is a recommended citation: Dion Forster, “An interview with Jürgen Moltmann by Selina Palm VLOG 63,” YouTube video, 37:40, posted 5 April 2017,, transcript accessible at

Here is my transcript. Please comment below for corrections:

Selina Palm: We’re very privileged that he has stopped by our university on the way to receive an honorary doctorate at the University of Pretoria. We have managed to catch him on his way, journeying through, and we are very grateful for that. The Professor arrived yesterday…? [Moltmann nods]. And he’s still settling in.

I don’t think that Professor Jürgen Moltmann needs any introduction. He’s renowned for his theology of hope, his image of the crucifed God, and his development, alongside others, of a new, liberating political theology from below. So I want to start with a slightly provocative anecdote. As you know, Professor Moltmann, our country has been gripped over the last few years by student protests, much like your earlier times in 1968. Many universities have been calling for the decolonisation of education. I was not particularly surprised, then, when your visit was announced, to see a black, African, feminist student friend of mine commenting on Facebook. She said, and I quote, “I’m always tired of male, white, European theologians coming to tell us how to do transformation in Africa. But,” she said, “I want to make an exception for this one [laughter], Jürgen Moltmann. I’m really looking forward to him.” She pointed to two things that you have said. One, your insistence that all theology is and must be contextual–and, I would add, political, as we heard yesterday. Secondly, your ongoing belief, which has shaped your life and your theology, that it is hope that can make us resist and struggle against the injustices of present, in the name of a different, possible future.

So [unclear] to you an exceptional skills visa, to come and visit South Africa’s soil. And we welcome you as a comrade in our diverse, complicated, intersectional struggle, for human dignity for all–black, white, rich, poor, male, and female. Welcome to the conversation [applause]. In this particular session, situated as part of the launch of the–can I use the f-word?–feminist gender unity, here, at Stellenbosch University, at the theological faculty, we want to honour and remember feminist theologian, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, your fellow theologian, friend, life-partner, and wife, for over sixty years, who died last year. We do not expect you to speak on behalf of your wife–that would be a very unfeminist thing to do–but we hope over the next half an hour or so you will share through your own memories. There are no abstract humans, as you constantly remind us. We are concrete, relational beings, and we look forward to hearing you talk[?] about this relationship.

To keep on this reflection, I’m going to read a sentence from your earlier autobiography, A Broad Place, which tells us something about your earlier relationship with Elisabeth. This is from Jürgen Moltmann’s biography, 2008. “Elisabeth and I met more and more often and with more and more pleasure. We walked through the Hainberg, cycled the countryside, attended seminars and lectures together, and went to films. Slowly, my inward imprisonment, which I had hidden behind Kierkegaard’s motto ‘desparing yet consoled’, dissolved. My soul expanded and I became lighthearted again. At the end of February 1950 we exchanged the first kiss [Moltmann laughs, audience claps] and rejoiced in each other” [BP, 48]. [Unclear] captured your heart.

Moltmann: [To the audience] You see before you only half a Moltmann. The other half is Elisabeth. And we shared one hundred percent love, one hundred percent respect, and a lifelong friendship and a [unclear]. When I first met her she was already a doctoral student. In order to come nearer to her, I asked her professor whether he would accept me as a doctoral student [laughter]. And, so, she was responsible for my theological career. I would not have thought of a doctorate in my head[?] before knowing her.

Palm: And she graduated six months before you, I understand, with her PhD?

Moltmann: Yes, the first virgo doctissima in Göttingen–because I started later. I was released from Bristish prisoner-of-war camps only in April of ’48. So I started later than her. And I followed her half a year later with a doctorate and an examination beginning in two weeks[?]. This was too much for both of us. She was born in [unclear; NOTE: Moltmann-Wendel was born in Herne and soon moved to Potsdam] in Potsdam. At that time [unclear] to Germany [unclear] and I came from Hamburg [unclear]. We wanted to go into the socialist country of Germany with the Christian faith. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to enter the GDR because I was not a national[? unclear] but a resident[?], British resident[?], so I was suspicious–I was a suspect. So, finally, our walk ended up in the little village near Bremen, Wasserhorst, where I served for five years. I was a pastor in a Reformed congregation. There was twelve [unclear], only one dyke[?], and every four hundred metres a farmhouse. And Elisabeth, she came [unclear] all the time [laughter]. Our first child died at birth, and we had two girls later in Wasserhorst, which was [unclear] whole congregation[?]. Last year we celebrated a feast of friendship[?] in Bremen, and all my doctoral students, from Korea and Greece and the United States, came and I preached in the little church of Wasserhorst. One of the farmers stood up and spoke to me in [unclear]–which is near the Netherlands language– and revealed himself as the first confirmant[?] of mine, after sixty-five years.

Palm: It says[?] also here, Professor Moltmann, that your wife in her autobiography, starts to speak of the divergence of your experiences, man and woman. She says, “We studied theology, we started as partners, in equal status and equal birth … [‘(we) enriched each other,’] he with philosophical knowledge and I with political views …. We began a shared life” [Moltmann-Wendel, Autobiography, xi, quoted somewhat freely]–but, while you were able to become a pastor, while she married you she was not also able to train for the ministry. She was only able to become at that time [unclear] system[?].

Moltmann: She didn’t want to be a pastor. She liked to be a teacher.

Palm: She was a good teacher.

Moltmann: Yeah, and it happened in 1973, on a trip through the United States, when she discovered the feminist movement and feminist theology. In our German tradition, we liked the woman to [unclear]. We liked the woman to be the nurse and the mother. And Elisabeth discovered human rights for woman. With this message she founded–co-founded–the feminist movement in Germany: Human rights for woman.

Palm: Thank you. She speaks in her autobiography about a turning-point, Uppsala in 1968, I think, where they talk about man with his divinely willed human rights. She speaks about being quite upset about that and thinking, What about human rights for woman? So it’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about her reading. [Unclear] take us on from feminist theology and your wife’s feminist journey, I’m going to read from one of of your books, Experiences in Theology, the chapter entitled, “Feminist Theology Today,” where you say, “I did not come to feminist theology. It came to me through the discoveries of my wife, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel. I was drawn into it, and then experience astonishing changes in myself. Out of respect for her independence, I have never claimed to be a ‘feminist theologian’ …. But from 1972 onwards, feminist theology became an important part of our conversation as man and wife, and in the family, and — whether consciously or unconsciously — it influenced me deeply” [ExpTh, 268]. Could you maybe share a little bit more about this journey for you?

Moltmann: I loved her discoveries in the Bible [unclear] and the interpretation of the Bible. For example, Miriam next to Moses, and Maria Magdalene next to Jesus, and the women around Jesus, are his friends[?]. I often served for her typical male thinking [laughter].

Palm: You objected to her experiments on how men think?

Moltmann: And she forced me to think and express as I believe. As a person in Germany, we used to tell the truth objectively [laughter]. And we refused [unclear] and lecturing, “I see that way”–to take into account the subjective perspective. I discovered a contextual, German theology, very limited in academic, and far from the public and far from the church.

Palm: So we actually have your wife to thank for your turn to the contextual? We’re very appreciative, as second-generation feminist theologians for that turn. I’ve really enjoyed reading some of the work that you and Elisabeth did together, writing together and speaking together, in [unclear]. And this was often shaped around the theme of becoming human in new community, the subject of one of your books. In your wife’s autobiography, she quotes a journalist who comments on you–I didn’t tell you that I was going to read this quote–in her autobiography this journalist quotes, “His wife has, we may assume, always prevented her husband from coming to grief on that rock on which so many patriarchal men of God come to grief, namely male self-righteousness. Jürgen Moltmann has not only practised the next new, honourable community of women and men in the church in his more than forty years of marriage to the theologian Elisabeth, but has also urged it on academic theology, a male domain” [Autobiography, 142]. Can you tell us a little bit more about this idea of modelling something different, of becoming human in new community together, and of finishing with[?] friendship? [Unclear].

Moltmann: In 1981, [unclear; NOTE: probably a speaker at the June 1981 WCC Consultation on the Community of Women and Men in the Church] shared a lecture in Sheffield [unclear] and the new community between men and women. We worked hard[? took part?] of it. We took days’ and nights’ discussion and I was caught up in a new conversation with Elisabeth that man–educated in a human way[?]–that man must be strong and hard and violent, aggressive, at least in the old German education tradition. So I formulated the sentence: “The lord in man has died so that the friend could be born.” [Unclear]. Friendship is the highest form of communicating [unclear from 20:10 to 20:33, though picking up on words “affliction,” “husband” and “trust”].

Palm: And what about the issue[?] of freedom in that quote that “the lord in man has died so that the friend might be born”? I think [unclear] theologian of freedom and that’s been a characteristic, maybe, of your theology. Tell a little bit more what that was like, your own experience as a man? The notion[?] of the lord in man died so that the friend could be born. Was that a hard journey? You speak about a concrete theology of male liberation as a journey that needs to be taken by men to accompany the feminist journey of women. Could you maybe share what that was like for you?

Moltmann: When I was sixteen, I was drafted into the German army, and I was educated as a soldier to kill and be killed.

Palm: Aged just sixteen.

Moltmann: With [unclear], I was released from [unclear] in ’48.

Palm: Did you serve three years, I think–two and a half years as a prisoner-of-war in a British…?

Moltmann: Two years in [unclear] and three years in [unclear].

Palm: So experience as a soldier and as a prisoner in those very formative[?] years of being a young man?

Moltmann: This was a special situation and this was not atypical for my generation. We survived.

Palm: Thank you. One of the things I liked most, quite a lot about this book, I Am My Body, by Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, focussing on a theology of embodiment–and maybe this has been a dimension particularly important for feminist theology that you brought to men, the idea that we’re not just talking heads but we are embodied creatures. How was that journey for you, to step outside this very famous [unclear]?

Moltmann: I [unclear] for this book in my book, God in Creation. The traditional picture was: the body is a container for the soul. And everything which comes effects the soul. But all the ways of God end in the body, in the incarnation and in the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh. So I referred the exchange of Apostolic Creed the resurrection of the flesh, which means all life, not only human life, not only bodily life, but all life. We wait[? write?] now in the resurrection of the dead, which means only human beings.

Palm: So the idea[?] that all flesh is resurrected, all creation [unclear] the body, in the sense that God has [unclear]. Thank you.

Moltmann: And this idea was not only the body as container of the soul but as [unclear, something about Protestant?]. The body has to serve morals and ethics that we pursue. We have to be in command of the body in all circumstances.

Palm: Now [unclear] to ask a theologian, but, as you speak about this shift from lordship–relating to masculinity [unclear], command over the body, command over the earth, the military metaphors, the notion of lordship… How long has this for you reshaped your understanding of how you commit[? relate?] to God?

Moltmann: When we read, “God created man and woman in the image of God,” so there is equality and [unclear] between man and woman to be the image of God, to correspond to God’s love and God’s beauty. I developed a–Elisabeth too[?]–creation anthropology. First, when I published the book on the social doctrine of the Trinity, she was disgusted [laughter] in the spot[?] of speculation of the beyond. And, finally, she understood the relation of God in the Trinity. One of my doctoral students discovered in the [unclear] of Count Zinzendorf, the motherhood of the Holy Spirit, which he proclaimed in [unclear] in Pennsylvania in 1741, the motherhood of the Holy Spirit, where the Holy Spirit comforts one as a mother and we are reborn out of the Holy Spirit, who must be a mother. Later, Count Zinzendorf told[?], the essentia[?] of community must have proclaimed the motherhood of the Holy Spirit, not I, not me, as a man.

Palm: And I loved [unclear] your shift from this almighty, lonely, patriarchal God to this notion of a relational God. And I know the last few decades you engaged much more strongly with the Pentecostal church, and the notion of the church as a charismatic community. What do you think you’d have me, for our churches here in South Africa, if you were to embrace this model of the church as open friendship, fellowship, community, as opposed to a [unclear] hierarchy of lordship? [Unclear] you[? view?], your ethical texts?

Moltmann: [Unclear] Ubuntu…?

Palm: We do have an Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Moltmann: And this corresponds to our [unclear] of friendship–open friendship, not closed friendship.

Palm: And I understand you’re going to be meeting Desmond Tutu later this week? I feel that’s going to be a fascinating conversation. I’m sure there’s many of them because I can ask people I’m aware of having been people in the room who have many questions they would like to ask you in [unclear] session later, four o’clock. But an opportunity, maybe if there’s one or two questions from the floor. So people can put hands up so I can have a bit of a sense and then I can [unclear] people.

Questioner 1: I really wonder if one can ask you a question that[? about?] South Africa as it is today. [Unclear] has wept until now. There is no [unclear] now. They are now making[?] what they have wept. How can you advise them? Because now they weep, we give them a [unclear]. But now, [unclear]. Because we [unclear], we have the constitution which is democratic now[?], but there is no [unclear] now.

Palm: [Unclear, something about Moltmann arriving?] in South Africa about twenty-four hours ago.

Moltmann: I would like, to my white brothers and sisters, say: Come, [unclear], and listen to others. To the other I would recommend: Get out of [unclear] and rest your voices [applause].

Palm: Do we have any other questions?

Questioner 2: Professor, my question is about friendship, which was stated quite clearly earlier on. The Dutch call friendship [unclear, something like hass-vrij?], the freedom of things[?]. Within the reality of the churches worldwide with homosexuality we [unclear]. Can friendship really work as a tool to cross the borders of same-sex relationships in giving our brothers and sisters the rights and the responsibilities to be fully members within our churches? Can friendship be harnessed[?] in a model to create more diversity within our churches?

Moltmann: Diversity is the sign of a rich church. And uniformity is a sign of a sect [laughter and applause]. As much as we can integrate different people, of different opinion, of different social standards, the more we become the community of Jesus.

Palm: I know in your wife’s book on friendship–somebody was telling me yesterday–she speaks–and I believe you also speak–about friendship as a sacrament that we live in a world with resolve[?] to make marriage into the ultimate sacrament, and that maybe there’s a need to rediscover the model of friendship between diverse peoples, as a sacrament in our Christian tradition.

Moltmann: There was one mystical tradition [i.e., Joachim of Fiore] with talk of relationship between God a[? of?] servant and Lord, of children of God and the Father, and of the Spirit of the friendship of God. God[?] becomes powerful and we pray as friends of God. We are not beggars, are not children, but grown-up friends of God. It was in [unclear] of that according to all[?] wisdom, which is fragmentary all the time. We respect the freedom of God to fulfil our prayer or not. This is the sign of friendship with God, to respect his freedom and trust his love.

Palm: So I think we’re gonna come to a close for this moment. On that note, the idea moving away from being slaves to a normal God, or even being children to a patriarchal parent God, to the notion of an egalitarian model of friendship*. Not only in our relationship to God but in our relationship to one another. And that signifies Jürgen Moltmann, I think, the friendship we have in community which you tried to live and worked towards. So, as you continue on in your journey with us, we thank you for spending the time to come and speak to us.

Moltmann: [Unclear] a Gospel word: Ich bin gut, ganz und schön.

Palm: That’s your wife’s words, isn’t it? I am good, whole and beautiful.

Moltmann: … Because I’m loved as a daughter of God. So this is the jubilation of the justified person.

Palm: What lovely words to end on: I am good, whole and beautiful. Thank you, Jürgen Moltmann, and for the gift of bringing your wife’s presence to us today. And I have a gift [applause].

*NOTE: This comment of Palm’s does not represent Moltmann’s earlier exposition of Joachim’s three kingdoms. “The freedom of servants, the freedom of children and the free­dom of God’s friends correspond to the history of the kingdom of God. They are stages on a road, as it were, but without being stages in a continuous development. Freedom is defined qualita­tively here, not quantitatively. Consequently it is misleading to date these stages on the road, either chronologically or in salvation history, as Joachim admittedly did. It is better to think of strata in the concept of freedom. Then these transitions are present in every experience of freedom. In the experience of freedom, we experience ourselves as God’s servants, as his children, and as his friends; and in this way we perceive the stages for ourselves. To be God’s servant therefore remains just as much a dimension of freedom as being God’s child, even if friendship with God goes beyond both.” — TKG, 221.

Moltmann, Bonhoeffer, and “Violence in Exceptional Situations”


I’m currently reading through Moltmann’s The Politics of Discipleship and Discipleship in Politics (Cascade, 2006). Moltmann’s essays in this volume were originally available in English in Following Jesus Christ in the World Today (now open access), and republished in On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics. Here they are paired with response essays from various Mennonite scholars, a newer response-to-the-responses from Moltmann, and Moltmann’s later essay, “Peacemaking and Dragonslaying in Christianity.” I remember reading Moltmann elsewhere (though I’m not quite sure where, probably pre-CG) on exceptions to pacifism. He then stated that something along the lines of how pacifist Christians shouldn’t be paternalistic in speaking to Christians in other situations who use violence to achieve their ends. A similar idea comes through in his response-to-the-responses (first published 1984 I think). This issue has likely been treated in greater detail elsewhere by other thinkers, though I’m sharing this here as I appreciate Moltmann’s uncertainty here and the side of him that it reveals:

Tom Finger returned with another question, … which really embarrasses me. It is the question of violence in exceptional situations. My answer reveals my personal dilemma. In 1943 at age 17 I was inducted into the German army. I watched the destruction of my home city Hamburg in the “fire storm” in July, 1943, in which more than 70,000 people died. I survived only as by a miracle. In 1945 I was fortunately taken prisoner by the English. In 1948 I returned to Germany. My generation was pitchforked into the war after the war was lost; we were to die because Hitler wanted to live a little longer and to make Auschwitz possible. When I returned, I swore two things to myself: (1) Never again war and never again service in a war and (2) if I should ever have the opportunity to eliminate a tyrant and mass murderer like Hitler, I would do it. In this line, I have participated in the peace movements against the arming of West Germany and against nuclear armament and against the stationing of Pershing 2 in West Germany.

But I have always simultaneously admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who took part in the active resistance to Hitler and who gave his life in that cause. I also have great understanding for the Christians in Nicaragua, who have joined the Sadinista Liberation Front, in order to end the crimes of the dictator Somoza. I know both of these decisions in a sense contradict a pure ethic of nonviolence. But I would ask my Mennonite friends to comprehend my dilemma from the bitter experiences of my life. I do not represent the “just war” teaching. I also do not advocate a justification of the murder of tyrants. But I know that there are situations in life in which one must resist and become guilty, in order to save human lives. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was right when he spoke of a conscious assumption of guilt in such cases. My generation in Germany became guilty because we did nothing to hinder the mass murder of the Jews. “Auschwitz” remains our mark of Cain.

PDDP 129-30, paragraph split for ease of reading

In Defence of the Nominative Me


In many registers of spoken English, it has become acceptable usage to say “me and you did this,” etc, that is, using “me,” typically the accusative or dative form of “I,” in the nominative, though only when there is more than one subject. It is rarely said “me did this,” because these rules tend to make themselves, so that “me” can only occur in the nominative case when there’s more than one subject.

A not-so-fun consequence of changes in the rules of language is that many people tend to assume that the world is falling to pieces because people don’t talk like them any more, etc. The nominative me, I think, has had one of the roughest treatments in this regard. Alongside the general misunderstanding that language stays the same throughout eternity and should not be meddled with, is the more specific misunderstanding in this case that says that the nominative me is not only a novum (though I would mention “methinks,” which originated as a dative — “it seems to me” — and later acted something like a nominative attached to a verb), but that it is ruled out simply because it only makes sense with multiple subjects. That is, as I said above, it is much less common across the different Englishes to say “me did this.” Therefore, the critics say, neither is “me and you did this” acceptable.

While I don’t think the second objection needs to be addressed at all–I differ from the critics in that language rules are set by usage, not fiat–for the sake of dialogue, I would point to another accepted use of the accusative-dative for the nominative in English that is policed not nearly as much, usually only in formal writing, if that. That is in the context of a comparison, using words like “than” or “like.” For example, it now accepted widespread to say “he cooks toast better than me,” as opposed to “he cooks toast better than I” (though that still crops up, but might sound forced in certain registers). Even better, “nobody cooks toast as well as us,” I am guessing, is preferred almost 100% of the time to “nobody cooks toast as well as we,” which is actually “correct” if these critics were consistent, because people rarely say “us cook toast” in place of “we cook toast.” This last point might be further argued that it is better to say “nobody cooks toast as well as we do.” But, I hope that by this point you’ve seen the unnecessity of it all.

I could further point to “whom,” our dative-accusative for “who,” which is on its way out, and words that have already long gone, for example, dative and accusative forms of personal names and other nouns (we still have the genitive, usually indicated with the ‘s). There is no need to create an arbitrary rule (the nominative me could only be used as such if it could form a singular subject as well as one of multiple subject). And unless you are following a specific style guide that requires adherence to particular rules for the sake of clarity, etc (and which should be updated at least annually to account for changes in formal registers, and also which are to be contested), there’s no need to complain.

Pinchas Lapide on What-Religion and Who-Religion

Pinchas Lapide (1967)
Pinchas Lapide, photo by Ron Koon, from Wikimedia Commons

I’m currently rereading Pinchas Lapide and Moltmann’s dialogue, Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine, originally published in German in 1979. It’s a great example of what Jewish-Christian dialogue can look like, though I’m sure lots of both Jews and Christians would take issue with their representatives’ proposals! Anyway, I just came across this distinction that Lapide makes between Jewish and Christian messianism. In reality, it’s probably not as simple as this but good thing to reflect on nonetheless:

All messianic speculation in Judaism remains “functional” rather than “personal,” for all believing Jews pray daily for the messiah–no one prays to the messiah. This instrumentality of the redeemer king enabled several of the outstanding figures of the medieval rabbinate, when faced with the forced disputations of a triumphal imperial church–which attempted to prove its redeemed character with all the means to power–to give up the faith in the messiah as a foundation of Judaism. Indeed, in the vortex of the militant Christomonism of the Church authorities there even developed a kind of Jewish antimessianism which could say:

“After the enslavements in Egypt there came the redemption through Moses. After the enslavement by Babylon there came the redemption by Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. After that came the persecutions by Elam, the Medes, and the Persians, and the redemption by Mordecai and Esther.

“After that there came the enslavement by Greece and the redemption through the Hasmoneans and their sons, and then there came the Roman captivity. Then the Israelites said: We are tired of being redeemed and enslaved, redeemed and again enslaved. We want no more ‘redemption’ by human hands. Redemption comes only from God” (Midrash Tehillim on 36:10).

Thus Christianity step by step became a who-religion, whose fundamental question about the essence of the Godhead was: Who is the Creator of the universe? Who is God’s Son? Who is the true Christ?

Judaism on the other hand was and remains predominantly a what-religion, which forgoes the profoundly probing who-question and pragmatically hopes to determine what God has accomplished on earth, what corresponds to God’s will, and–in the most daring case–what God intends for us.

This who-what debate, which naturally cannot be corralled in any precise schema, often reminds Jewish readers of the New Testament dispute between the two hills, between the hill of the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee and the hill of Golgotha in Jerusalem–between what Jesus proclaimed in his eschatological message and the who of his person as the christologically proclaimed one.

Judaism and Christianity are both stamped with a profound messianism. The former, however, places its emphasis on the what: the redemption. The latter on the who: the redeemer himself.

That the who and the what are not to be separated here, indeed that “both are the words of the living God,” as the Pharisees were careful to say in their disputes, is evidenced both by the second petition of the Our Father, “Your kingdom come!” and also the twelfth truth of faith of Maimonides, which has long since become part of the liturgy of the synagogue: “I believe with complete conviction in the appearance of the messiah, and even if he tarries I will nevertheless await his daily coming.”

Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine (Fortress, 1981), 84-86.

Follow-up on the Clod-God Split in NZE

This is a follow-up of my earlier post, The Possibility of Rhyming ‘Clod’ and ‘God’, in which I claimed there was a split between the words “clod” and “god” in NZ English, as many other Englishes pronounce them with the same vowel length. Since then I have had replies ranging from “That’s not how I say it,” so that I have learnt of NZE speakers who do not differentiate between vowel length in the two words, to “That’s how I say it too,” so that I have found at least one speaker of Australian English (Adelaide) who makes the same distinction. I’m sure that’s reasonably widespread and would be interested in seeing some hard data.

Moreover, I just met the Otago University linguist, Dr. Simon Overall, in the tearoom and asked him for his opinion. He first of all affirmed that he could hear the distinction in NZE, and second of all informed me of another distinction that he had noticed, that between add and Dad, where add takes the short and Dad the longer vowel in NZE. Other rhyming words I can think of also take the short vowel, such as clad and had, and yet others the longer, such as sadmad, and bad!

This means that the role that the following consonant plays is diminished, whereas in my earlier post I had assumed that words that shared the same consonant endings generally had the same vowel length. Other factors are at work. Dr. Overall suggested that the trend may have something to do with frequency of usage. More frequently used words are more likely to experience an elongated pronunciation. Looking at some of the words on RhymeZone, I’m wondering if in this case it has something to do with word class. Of the words I recognise, I tend to pronounce nouns and adjectives with a longer vowel than verbs. One exception may be ad, though I can’t seem to figure out if I pronounce it with a long or short vowel, or either, context dependent. Some words change in different forms too. I pronounce grad with a long vowel but graduate (noun) and graduate (verb) both with a short vowel in the first syllable, albeit with different final syllables. However, I pronounce mad with a long vowel, as well as its repetition in constructions and words like madman and Mad Hatter.

New Moltmann Article Published

For those interested in Moltmann’s early theology I have just had an article published on his relationship to the historian of religion, Mircea Eliade: Cameron Coombe, “Another Origin of the Theology of Hope? Moltmann’s Dependence on Mircea Eliade,” Pacifica 30:1 (2017): 88-101. Here is the abstract:

The influence of Mircea Eliade on Moltmann’s work has largely been overlooked in scholarship. This article seeks to address this, providing an exposition of the themes of history and historicism in Eliade’s work and demonstrating how Moltmann draws upon these to develop his concept of ‘epiphany religion’, especially in Theology of Hope but also at later stages in his career. Eliade’s scholarship also bolsters Moltmann’s claims regarding the uniqueness of promissory history in its contention that non-Judeo-Christian societies reject history in the same way that ‘Greek’ society does, allowing Moltmann to situate his polemics against Greek philosophy in a universal context, and giving Moltmann’s theological claims an air of respectability insofar as they are supported by secular scholarship. The second part of the article critically evaluates Moltmann’s dependence on Eliade in regard to generalized claims in both of their works.

Gender-neutral Alternatives to “Man”

While gradually falling out of use, the general “man” is still sometimes used in various registers of English. So, “Man is a political animal.” My favourite example is its use in Jurassic Park, which also demonstrates its limits by poking fun at it at the same time:

Appreciation of the general “man” is especially the case in my discipline, theology, much of which seems to make a habit of allying itself with cultural conservatism. Most seem to prefer it for want of an alternative, some claim literary reasons for their preference, and others still decry any change as an unnecessary exercise in political correctness. Moreover, none of these explanations are limited to male authors. See, for example, Fleming Rutledge’s comments in her masterful work of scholarship, The Crucifixion. I will briefly address these objections in reverse order.

First, that avoiding the general “man” is unnecessary. All that is being said here, by those who advocate alternatives, is that English, like all languages, in various ways reflects the history and beliefs of the millions of people who have contributed to what it now is. It is not immutable, nor should it be, and did not fall out of the sky, nor should it have. If it reflects an (or various) ancient assumption(s) that equates the male with the centre of that which is human and the female with the periphery, so that the latter is an afterthought and does not share this centre, then the history of the word’s use should be held to account. It should be held to account for its participation in patriarchal societies and its complicity in their oppression of women and gender minorities. As such, alternatives should also be sought for the basic reason that our language should reflect the society we want to become. I myself am not going to be dogmatic about its use, though if I had say in the publication of formal writing I would recommend using alternatives for this reason.

Second, that the general “man” is literary. The substance of this objection is that the general “man” is valuable precisely because of its history of usage. It enhances the joy and appreciation of the reader in transporting them into a world where a language that is at once familiar and foreign is spoken. This is what I understand to be part of Rutledge’s explanation. Although she presents an academic work, she does not want to cut herself off from the riches of her linguistic heritage. Again, I am not being dogmatic. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with this objection, though it has not convinced me to use the general “man” myself.

The party which I may be a little late to (Pixabay)

Third, that English lacks an adequate alternative. And hence the reason for this post! I had once thought, along with advocates of the general “man,” that English lacked an alternative that represented the general and the particular at the same time. This did not mean I agreed with the use of the general “man” in formal writing, but only that “humanity is a political animal” and “human beings are political animals” were preferable, albeit inadequate, alternatives. (They are inadequate because “humanity” has only the general and not the particular, and “human beings” is in the plural). Lo and behold, however, today when I was reading Moltmann, translations of whose works often employ the general “man” to translate the German “Mensch,” which, interestingly, is not the word for “man” in German–“Mann” holds that position–I realised something. I realised that the particular and general could come together with a subtle change: “the human being is a political animal.” The perks are that this construction is singular, thus representing the particular, though it can also be taken to mean the representative of a class, as in “the kiwi is a national icon,” and that its genderlessness is more representative of human beings. The one downside I see is that I’m not sure how common this usage is. But I don’t see that as a major issue. Finally, if you’ve already discovered this useful alternative, well done! I might be a little late to the party.

Some Thoughts on Being Colourblind

A dotted circle, apparently with numbers (Wikipedia)

This afternoon I went downstairs for an afternoon break and was perusing the posters on the poster board. Sometimes people are doing research and they get funding so it’s good to see if you qualify so that you can get a little extra dosh. Sometimes people can’t offer any incentive but the good that is you being apart of their research. I don’t usually take time to participate in the second type, though I try to convince myself sometimes if it looks like particularly important stuff. Today I found a dotted circle, the kind that I instantly recognised from the time we all got taken out of class in primary school, one-by-one, to get a free eye test. I was excited to tell my parents that I was colourblind. Not because that was good in itself, but that I felt validated that someone finally knew something of me that I always knew but did not yet have the framework within which to express it. I felt again that same excitement today, eagerly texting the student to demonstrate my interest in participating in her research on the experiences of colourblind people.

I thought, also, that it would be good to write a wee post to share with the world and gather my thoughts before turning up for a research interview and realising I have little to say. If I were more diligent, I would get around to reading what other people have said about their experiences, and dig into some popular science around it. Alas, I am not diligent, so I present here my experiences as I know them, minimally unsullied by extra conceptual frameworks. Unfortunately, I could not tell you what type I am. I can only give you vague assertions around what colours I have difficulty seeing. (This could probably be easily remedied by doing a free online test but I can’t be bothered right now, lol).

I have a faint recollection of one of my first frustrations with colourblindness, though I’m not sure if I actually recall it or if I have created a memory from what I’ve been told. But the feelings of frustration remain, so I must have remembered something of it. When I was at my Nana’s house, I either could not tell Nana (or Mum?) what colour the numbers were on the microwave, or I couldn’t see them at all. I would have been anywhere between four and seven. Anyway, neither Nana nor Mum believed me–whatever it was that I said–and it was only after I got the word from the specialist lady at school (warm fuzzy times!) that they could retrospectively regain my trust in matters microwavial.

Post-diagnosis, other frustrations continued. There was bullying. My younger brother took advantage of my disability and called me stupid when I couldn’t tell what colour something was, for example, if I were to refer to a purple car as blue. Even though it hurt at the time and I hated him for it, I can understand it now because I was such an arse to him and he was younger than me. We both capitalised on anything socially undesirable, however minor, of the other’s. In high school, when I started making some friends outside of our typical friend group, a couple of guys would say, “Go hang out with your other friends, colourblind!” That sounds really weird, and it was. They certainly weren’t being serious. I think they thought it’d be a funny and random thing to say. It did hurt though. Finally, I remember the oddest time when one of my friends said that I wasn’t even colourblind because he knew someone who was dyslexic and colourblind together. They’d get the bright green bus mixed up with the bright red one. I never had that trouble so I had nothing to complain about. That really sucks for that guy, but I reserve the right to politely reject my friend’s claim, keeping in mind that this friend was not himself colourblind, nor dyslexic.

There were other frustrations too. When people found out I was colourblind (usually from me accidentally misnaming an object), they would be fascinated and want to test me. “What colour’s this? What colour’s that?” I’d disappoint them when I often got all of their questions correct, usually with some good guesswork! In high school this sometimes elicited the response, “Oh, you’re not really colourblind.” Sometimes this had led me to secretly ask someone in the know what colour something was before talking about it aloud. But the problem with people who know you’re colourblind is that they’ll unwittingly take advantage of your colourblindness to affirm something that even people with typical vision would debate, for example, whether you call a particular sunset orange (me and some people) or red (some other people) or yellow (other people yet again). All might be true, as it is a matter of linguistics and not sight, but it automatically becomes a matter of sight. You’re wrong because you’re colourblind, even though you hadn’t asked whether you were right or wrong. And both people are actually right anyway. Another time I remember we were looking at different stars and people would talk about red ones and white ones and blue ones. It seems little, and it was, but I can’t shake the feeling of having missed out then. They all look the same colour to me, and they’re so small that I can’t quite know what colour that might be!


One particularly interesting frustration is the use of the word colourblind to denote a particular form of racism. For many, those who say that blacks and whites have equal opportunities in the States (and elsewhere, for example), are colourblind. That is, they “don’t see colour.” They don’t see that which is otherwise obvious to an oppressed people group, which is that the odds are clearly stacked against them. I have no problem with this analysis. Indeed, it’s more important than what I’m writing about here. But I don’t think the wording is helpful at all. It makes use of a person’s disability (and there are much more major forms of colourblindness than mine, as my high school friend graciously reminded me) to characterise something undesirable. Unfortunately, as far as I know, regardless of the term’s origin, it is most at home on the left, people who might otherwise know better. If they didn’t know, that’s fine with me, someone who once made a habit of calling everything “lame.” But now is the time to find a replacement term.

A more comical frustration for me, perhaps because it doesn’t really happen in a social context, is the difficulty I’ve had gaming sometimes. For example, when playing Age of Empires II, which I played a lot as a kid, I always found it difficult to distinguish yellow and green players on the mini-map, as well as both of these from gold mining spots. This problem was the worst on a campaign(s?) where you had to play as a yellow or green player, and you’d be attacked by or attacking the other colour and not be able to distinguish your own guys from the enemy’s. Recently, when Pokemon Go came out, I couldn’t tell if I’d swiped a PokeStop or not, which changed from blue to purple when swiped, because the colour change was too subtle for me. Another funny one is the men’s toilets outside my office. There are two cubicles with red or green to indicate whether engaged or vacant, except they don’t have the writing, just the colour. Because I do better with colours close-up, I have to walk right up to the closed cubicle door (which is always closed, vacant or no) and inspect the lock.

The thing that I’ve only just realised in the last couple years is that my colourblindness is located in a world beyond the literal workings of my vision. It’s never my eyes alone that tell me the colour (wrong or right) of an object. This is the same with people who have typical vision. That is, I cannot tell you how my eyes see the sky because my brain has already told me, from myriad stories and interactions, etc, that the sky is blue. I don’t know if I see it or ever saw it as purple. Healthy grass is green and not brown. But I can’t tell you if that’s my eyes or my brain. And unless I see objects in new contexts or objects I have never seen before, I cannot say where my eye starts and my brain finishes.

As you can see, my experiences with colourblindness haven’t been the end of my world. They have led me to mild frustration and sadness sometimes, and I think it is right to acknowledge them. They are little compared with the experiences of those with more major impairments, not least those with more major vision impairments. Indeed, they have allowed me a greater understanding of myself and others. I hope you learned something, and feel free to ask questions and share your experiences (colourblind or otherwise) in the comments.